Uber and Lyft Drivers Strike for Better Pay and Benefits

Rideshare drivers in at least 10 major US cities and several cities internationally went on strike on May 8, demanding better pay, protections, benefits, support, and transparency from Uber, Lyft, and Juno.

The 24-hour strike, which has received the support of Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), aims to demonstrate how crucial drivers are to Uber and Lyft. The strike occurred in about a dozen cities, including Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, Chicago, Minneapolis, Atlanta, Washington DC, Philadelphia, New York, Boston, and Dayton, Ohio. News of the strike has prompted drivers in Kenya, Nigeria, Chile, Costa Rica, and the United Kingdom to join the boycott, according to Vox.

Drivers, who are classified as independent contractors, are asking for a guaranteed $28 per hour minimum rate to cover work-related expenses, such as gas, insurance, and maintenance, Mashable reported.

Rideshare Drivers United, which led the strike in Los Angeles, is calling on Uber and Lyft to set a 10 percent commission cap and pay drivers a per mile and per minute rate as they pick up riders. The organization is also asking that the apps show drivers the estimate fare payment and trip destination before they accept a trip.

Steve Smith, a spokesperson for the California Labor Federation, told The North Star that drivers have seen their rates drastically cut by Uber and Lyft. Uber, for example, recently cut driver rates from $0.80 per mile to $0.60 per mile, Smith said. That has forced drivers to spend more time working to make up for the wage loss.

Uber did not immediately respond to The North Star’s request for comment. Drivers are primarily looking for a minimum wage, as well as important benefits, including unemployment insurance and workers’ compensation. Smith noted that Lyft recently went public at a $24 billion valuation and that Uber is expected to go public soon with a $90 billion valuation, “and yet they’re not paying their drivers a minimum wage.”

New York City already implemented a new minimum wage for drivers on ride-hail apps. A law passed in December 2018 requires rideshare companies to pay a minimum of $17.22 an hour after expenses, The Verge reported. In response, both Uber and Lyft stopped accepting new drivers.

A Gridwise study from this year analyzed the trips of 30,000 drivers around the US and found that drivers made on average $18.65 an hour in 2018 before expenses. The Gridwise app, which helps drivers be more efficient, encouraged drivers to work for multiple rideshare services to earn the most money. In a statement to The North Star, Lyft said that it is constantly working to improve how to serve its drivers.

“Lyft drivers’ hourly earnings have increased 7 percent over the last two years, and they have earned more than $14B since we launched,” the statement said. “Over 75 percent drive less than 10 hours a week to supplement existing jobs. On average, Lyft drivers earn over $20 per hour. We know that access to flexible, extra income makes a big difference for millions of people, and we’re constantly working to improve how we can best serve our driver community.”

Smith said that is not what they are hearing from frustrated drivers. He told The North Star that he knows that Uber and Lyft are looking to shave costs to appeal to investors, but the apps need to know that their drivers are the “backbone” of their companies. He added that Uber and Lyft were making it much more difficult for drivers to drive less.

While drivers initially work for Uber and Lyft to supplement their day jobs, Smith said that drivers are increasingly forced to make ridesharing their primary job. The decrease in earnings have forced drivers to work more, Smith said.

There have been several cases of for-hire drivers committing suicide as they buckle under increasing financial pressure. By October 2018, at least seven drivers, including Uber driver Fausto Luna, had died of suicide in New York City. According to The New York Times, taxi drivers and rideshare drivers have felt significant financial hardships as Uber and Lyft have become more popular.

It is unclear whether the strikes will be successful. Joyce Beebe, a public finance fellow at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy, told Mashable that it is unlikely drivers will get higher pay, especially due to the companies' independent contractor model.

About the Author

Nicole Rojas is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has published in various venues, including Newsweek, GlobalPost, IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, and the Long Island Post. Nicole graduated from Boston University in 2012 with a degree in print journalism. She is an avid world traveler who recently explored Asia and Australia.